The Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer

Sit alone and in silence; bow your head and close your eyes; relax your breathing and with your imagination look into your heart; direct your thoughts from your head into your heart. And while inhaling say, " Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me", either softly with your lips or in your mind. Endeavour to fight distractions but be patient and peaceful and repeat this process frequently.

St Simeon (Philokalia)


What is Jesus Prayer?

The Jesus Prayer is an ancient form of prayer, of being attentive to God who manifested himself to us in Christ. The practice of the Jesus Prayer began in the early centuries of Christianity, as a prayer of monks and nuns, the Desert Fathers and Mothers. Also known as the Prayer of Jesus, the Prayer of the Name of Jesus, and unceasing prayer, it has been handed down to us in an unbroken tradition. Until recently, it has been mainly practiced by the Eastern Orthodox Church, but is becoming known to increasing numbers of Christians in the West.

The Jesus Prayer is also called prayer of the heart. It rises not from our physical heart, or from our ordinary mind, but from the deepest place of our being, from its very centre, from what we might call our true self. It is this inner heart that the teachers of the Prayer meant when they told their disciples that they should seek to “enter their hearts” and say the words there. 

In any case, we should not become preoccupied with the technique of the Prayer and get involved in all sorts of fantasies. Because we may forget that the Prayer should not be seen – for it was not intended to be seen – as a way of reaching some “higher”, more exalted spirituality or knowledge. Rather, it is a way of helping us to find real personal relationship with Christ. We are saying it to the Person of Jesus who is right there, with us and in us, closer than we can possibly imagine. There is no higher spirituality than that. 

The presence of Jesus with us is a fact proclaimed to us by faith: Christ is with us and in us; he is above us and among us; he is in every aspect of our existence. Thus we do not need to do anything to bring his presence about. All we need to do is to try and be open and attentive to it. This is true of every way of prayer, including the Jesus Prayer, if we are called to walk that way. 

Should I try the Jesus Prayer?

How do we decide to begin praying the Jesus Prayer? In a way, the early teachers of the Prayer said, we do not. We are led to it by the Holy Spirit. How do we know that we called to this way of prayer? In a way, we do not. If we feel drawn to try it, we should try it. If it is not God’s will for us, we shall not persevere, but if it is God’s will, we shall soon know. There are many ways in which God may want to lead us to experience his presence in our hearts; the Jesus Prayer is one of them, but nobody else can ever tell us how we must pray. In the end, it is between us and God. 

How do I practise the Jesus Prayer?

Its form is very simple. It consists of constant repetition of just few words: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” or “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” or “Lord Jesus, have mercy,” or even a single word: “Jesus.” The exact wording does not matter as long as the Name of Jesus is central to it. For it is that name “that is above all names” that is our way to the centre of ourselves, the door to our ‘inner room’ where God lives. 

We practice it by sitting still, with our eyes closed, and repeating the words slowly, gently, attentively, silently, over and over again. Not so much with our lips as with our minds. We allow ourselves to fall silent – let the words go – whenever we need to do so. As Father Lev Gillet has suggested, we need to respect our own inner needs and find our own way of praying the Jesus Prayer. 

Same applies to the choice of position we adopt. It is best to sit up straight, for it is easier to be alert and stay awake that way. Apart from that, position does not matter. The Fathers usually stood while praying, some sat, knelt or prostrated themselves. St. Francis of Assis often prayed lying on his back. We should choose the position that is best for us and makes it easiest for us to stay attentive. 

At the beginning, it is important to set aside some time for it, perhaps just ten or fifteen minutes, every day, twice a day if possible. We should not be too concerned if our attention wanders, if we forget what we are saying, if we are distracted or even bored. If this happens, we just return to saying the prayer, and keep saying it through the whole period we set aside for it. 

We must not force ourselves beyond our limits or make an obligation of it, a burden we cannot carry. Pushing ourselves a little is alright, and at times even necessary, but we should be gentle with ourselves. To pray the Jesus Prayer is a privilege, and will soon become a joy. But joy should not be confused with pleasant experiences or feelings. In fact, we must not expect to experience anything, to imagine anything, to have any insights or feelings as the result of our prayer. The Jesus Prayer is a way of realising that all we are and have is not our own doing, but a gift of God’s love. 


  1. Living the Jesus Prayer – Practicing the prayer of the heart by Irma Zaleski

  2. The Jesus Prayer – A Cry for Mercy, A path of Renewal by John Michael Talbot

  3. Using the Jesus Prayer – Steps to a Simpler Christian Life by John Twisleton